Brie En Croute with Figs & Rosemary

It’s Ash Wednesday, a mournful first footfall along a path that winds through fasting, repentance, and even death on its way to climactic, exuberant rebirth. Some Baptist churches observe Lent, the season of sacrifice that begins today, but others — including my own — don’t. I started observing it personally in college, though, because I appreciated the symbolism: the 40ish days of Lent recognize the 40 days of fasting and prayer Jesus endured in the wilderness in preparation for laying down His life as a sacrifice for our sins.

During Lent, people choose something to give up in recognition of Christ’s self-denial. The first year I participated, I gave up sweets. Perhaps that seems harsh considering I now write a baking blog dominated by decadent desserts, but I actually thought I was starting off easy. I wasn’t a huge fan of desserts at the time. I sometimes joke that my 40-day abstinence must have created a continuously combusting passion for cake in the depths of my soul, because afterwards, I was ravenous for sugar (and have been ever since).

In subsequent years I would give up meat (easy), computer usage (a little harder), and caffeine (ridiculously difficult).

Those 40 days without soda almost did me in. I know it’s absurd — Christ gave up everything and I had trouble giving up a beverage — but I really did struggle. For some reason, drinking lots of water makes me feel parched instead of hydrated. I was thirsty all the time, my throat was sore, my lips were dry, and yet — to put it delicately — I still needed more bathroom breaks than a teacher could possibly squeeze into the day. The worst part, though, was how absolutely exhausted I was all the time. Apparently I run mostly on caffeine.

This year I’m giving up a few different things. I’ve developed something of a chain-drinking problem with Diet Sunkist at school, so I’m abstaining from that entirely. I’m also giving up time on the internet: I’ve given myself just a sliver of time to check Facebook and Pinterest and my Google Reader each evening.

It’s just a couple of small things — enough to create a background discomfort that reminds me that my freedom came at a steep cost.

This Brie En Croute with Figs & Rosemary might be better suited to Fat Tuesday (emphasis on the “fat”) than Ash Wednesday, but it’s not Sunkist or Facebook, so right now it’s fine by me! In fact, it’s more than fine; it’s fantastic. It’s a warm, heavenly mess of gooey and sweet and buttery and crisp — and since it’s simple to put together but comes out looking fancy, it’d be perfect for a party or nice dinner.

Or as a personal snack. At parties, I usually eat a few crackerfuls of brie and then politely leave the cheese plate to other folks. Turns out when you’re an adult and can make all sorts of bad food decisions with reckless abandon, you can eat the entire wheel of brie by yourself (though, given that I felt decidedly gross after doing so, perhaps I shouldn’t recommend it). Here’s to moderation!

Do you observe Lent? If so, what are you giving up?

Brie En Croute with Figs & Rosemary

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: This recipe would probably serve about 5-6 people at a party.

My favorite recipes are easy, pretty, and delicious, and this one fits the bill. Brie baked inside of puff pastry is already a gooey, buttery masterpiece, but adding sweet figs and some rosemary to the mix creates a fantastic flavor profile.

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed (or make your own!)
1 8-ounce wheel of brie (rind on)
1/4 cup fig jam or preserves
1/4 cup chopped dried figs
1 1/2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh rosemary
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a small bowl, mix jam, chopped figs, and rosemary. Set this in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

Gently roll out the sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface just enough to smooth out the seams and thin it a bit. Spoon your jam mixture into a small circle (about the size of your brie wheel) in the center of the pastry sheet and place your brie on top of it snugly. Carefully pull the puff pastry sheet up around the brie, cutting off any excess (I use a clean pair of kitchen scissors) and pressing the pastry to seal it together at the top. Use a pastry brush to dust off the excess flour.

Place the covered brie seam side down on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Use scraps to decorate your brie, if you wish (you can use a wet finger to moisten the dough slightly and “glue” them on). Whisk egg and water together in a small bowl and use a pastry brush to apply this egg wash to the whole surface of the pastry . Bake this wheel at 425 degrees F for 18-25 minutes, or until it’s good and golden brown (if you have decorations on top, check it early and often to see if you need to cover them with foil, because they’ll darken quicker than the rest of the wheel). After removing your wheel from the oven, let it sit for 15 minutes if you like it very melty and about 20-25 minutes if you like an average melt (as pictured above). Then serve with toast or crackers.

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Heart-Shaped Palmiers and a Pesto Giveaway

What does it say about me that I have more fun at middle school dances as a grown-up than I ever did as a middle schooler?

Woodlawn’s 7th graders hosted a February dance last night. The theme was BRIGHT COLORS to avoid any romantic drama involving Valentine’s Day, so everyone dressed in their rainbow best.

I waltzed in fashionably late in a magenta and turquoise get-up, danced with a gaggle of my 6th grade students to “Fly Like a G6” (though we sing, “now I’m feelin’ so fly / like a fruitbat,” which we feel more accurately characterizes us), and filmed all the hair-whipping that occurred when “Whip My Hair” came on.

We stopped mid-dance to run outside and play freeze tag. I ditched my heels and joined the math teacher, also named Julie, as “it.” Once our feet and hands were frozen, we all filed back in for more dancing. Julie and I sang a duet of “Ice Ice Baby” at one point, showing our age.

Every now and then I’d have a chaperonely duty to perform: directing cleanup, vetoing a song or two, telling the 6th graders to stop screaming. But in general, the dance was exactly what a middle school dance should be: fun and happy. Why didn’t I have this much fun when I was actually in middle school?

I vividly recall my 7th grade Valentine’s dance. My teachers were apparently not as sensitive to the delicate hormonal phase we were in, so they thought it’d be a great idea to make the dance as sappy as possible. Everything was covered in red and pink, with hearts papering the walls. It looked like cupid had thrown up love and romance on every available surface of the multipurpose room where the dance was held. Not only that, but a table was set up outside the bathrooms where the PTA was selling roses and candy for the suave middle school boys who had come to the dance unprepared for their dates.

Someone had asked me to this particular dance. We’ll call him Jeb, and he was not my type. I told him I would go with him as a friend because I wanted to be nice, but once I arrived at the dance, the middle school social pressure overwhelmed me. I didn’t want to be seen with Jeb, much less have to, like, dance with him and stuff.

Just after walking in, I caught sight of him at the aforementioned table buying a rose for me and I booked it to the girls’ bathroom, where I hid for the majority of the night. Every now and then I’d poke my head out and watch him wandering around quizzically, looking for me in the crowd, and then I’d duck back in to hide some more. Part of me felt guilty, but the part that felt mortified won out.

Jeb moved away shortly thereafter, and I felt so bad for having ditched him at the dance. Thankfully, he returned in high school and I got the opportunity to apologize. I chalk the whole experience up to middle schoolitis, the inflammation of your social nerve. For some reason when you’re a middle schooler, it matters so much what others are thinking about you. You don’t want to dance, because what if people think you dance funny? You don’t want to hang out with certain people, because what if people think you’re like them? You don’t want to wear certain clothes, because what if they send the message that you’re uncool?

Phew, I’m so glad that’s over. And so glad that I, unlike a lot of grown-ups, have a second chance at the middle school dance! Call it one of the perks of being a teacher.

Anyway, after all that fun last night, I didn’t have much time for baking. I knew I wanted to make something sweet and Valentinesy, but it also needed to be quick. Voila: easy heart-shaped palmiers that can be sweet or savory depending on what you spread in them.

Pestos With Panache by Lauren sent me two pesto flavors to review, Fig & Gorgonzola and Pumpkin Chipotle, so I decided to make two varieties of pesto palmiers. To satisfy my sweet tooth (who’m I kidding? it’s insatiable), I also made Fig Jam & Almond Palmiers and Chocolate, Pecan, & Coconut Palmiers. I love that palmiers are so customizable that you can create a variety of them at once (the method below will inspire you to get creative!), but what I love even more is that you can whip up a batch of these cuties in 20 minutes. Perfect for a last-minute addition to your Valentine’s meal!

Speaking of Valentines — the Valentine’s Fairy heard my lamentations about not getting any valentines as an adult, so I got this in the mail from my Sunday school teacher, Joyce. Too sweet!

Regarding the pesto, Pestos With Panache by Lauren has all-natural, preservative free products. The pestos keep well in the freezer for up to two years, and the company boasts a number of zany, creative flavors.

I wasn’t wild about the Pumpkin Chipotle Pesto; it combined mild pumpkin with some heat, and it seemed like it would work better in a recipe with bolder flavors to complement it. The Fig & Gorgonzola Pesto, though, was deep and delicious, and I can’t wait to try some of the other fruity flavors. I can imagine lots of creative uses for them, including (of course) palmiers!

Would you like to win two of the fun pesto flavors from Pestos With Panache? They’d love to send one lucky commenter a sample. To enter:

1. Required Main Entry (your other entries won’t count unless you do this one!): Visit Pestos With Panache by Lauren and tell me what 2 pesto flavors you’d love to try.

To get up to five extra entries, do each of the following items (one entry per item). Please be sure to leave a separate comment for each item you complete, or you will not receive the entry for that item. If you already do these things, it still counts (just leave me a comment and tell me so).
2. “Like” Pestos With Panache on Facebook.
3. “Like” Willow Bird Baking on Facebook.
4. Follow Pestos With Panache on Twitter.
5. Follow Willow Bird Baking on Twitter.
6. Tweet the following message: “Just entered to win 2 pesto flavors from @PestosWPanache on Willow Bird Baking! #giveaway @julieruble”

The contest will close at 12 noon (EST) on February 19, 2011, and the winner will be chosen via In the meantime, make some palmiers!

Heart-Shaped Palmiers

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yields: 25-28 palmiers

1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed (or use homemade puff pastry!)
sprinkle of flour
moist spread*

*you can use pestos, jellies, Nutella, thicker sauces, etc.
**such as cheeses, toasted nuts, chocolate chips, etc.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out the puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface so that it’s just slightly longer, and then cut it in half horizontally with a pizza cutter. You now have two rectangles of puff pastry.

Spread your pesto, jelly, or other moist spread onto the puff pastry sheets leaving about 1/4-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle toppings on lightly, taking care not to overstuff and make your palmiers difficult to roll. Apart from my two pesto palmiers, I made palmiers spread with fig jam and sprinkled with toasted almonds, and palmiers sprinkled with sugar, cocoa powder, toasted pecans, mini chocolate chips, and toasted coconut. The sky’s the limit in terms of the combinations you can create.

Once you’ve spread and topped your pastry rectangle, grab the long edge and fold it in toward the middle. Repeat with the other long edge, such that they meet in the middle:

Now fold one side of the dough onto the other:

At this point, stick the dough in the freezer on wax paper for about 10 minutes so that it’s easier to cut. Using a sharp knife, cut the log into 1/2-inch slices:

Set each slice on one of the prepared baking sheets with one of the cut sides up. If the knife smooshed them a little, prod them back into shape. Bake at 425 degrees F for 8 minutes before turning the temperature down to 400 degrees F and gently flipping each palmier. Bake for 4-5 minutes extra. Remove the palmiers from the oven and transfer them to a cooling rack. Serve slightly warm.

Note: Pestos With Panache by Lauren provided me with 2 pesto flavors to review at no cost to me and offered to sponsor this giveaway. I’m committed to giving you my honest opinion about any product mentioned on Willow Bird Baking.

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